Do Depressed Older Adults Who Attribute Depression to "Old Age" Believe it is Important to Seek Care?

Older adults who are depressed use more health resources than their nondepressed counterparts. Still, among community-residing older adults, almost a third of those with major depression do not seek care, though such care can effectively treat the depression. Researchers at UCLA hypothesized that this gap in seeking treatment for depression might be attributable to the perception, common among older adults, that depression is due to "old age." This article presents the results from a survey that tested this hypothesis using data collected from community-residing older adults with a high risk of depression. Participants first stated whether depression in an older person is most likely due to aging, aging and illness, or illness. They then answered a series of questions pertaining to a hypothetical older friend seeking advice as to whether it was very, somewhat, or not at all important to discuss the given issue with a doctor. Data was drawn only from participants who were likely to be depressed, defined as scoring two or more on the five-item Geriatric Depression Scale. In all, the researchers included data from 90 older adults. They found that depressed older adults who attributed depression to aging were over four times more likely than those attributing it to illness of not believing it is very important to discuss their symptoms with a doctor. Instead, they were generally more likely to believe it only somewhat important. This study builds on over 25 years of research, but distinguishes itself by focusing on older adults with a strong probability of actually being depressed. One limitation of the survey is that it cannot determine whether the stated beliefs of its respondents actually correspond with health-seeking behavior.